by Ross Bishop
What are you afraid of? What gets to you? Most of us fear being hurt. Some of us are afraid of snakes or spiders. Many people fear death. As a kid, were you afraid of the dark? Giving a talk to strangers is very anxiety producing for some people. Walking on a narrow ledge can be very scary! Some people are afraid to jump out of an airplane. Some of us even fear social interactions while others fear being alone.
Fear involves the real or imagined loss of something we are attached to. The fear is real. Everyone is different, but we all have fears. Some people’s fears are abnormal, but they are very real for them. What our fears have in common is that the event in question always exists in the future. One additional factor is that you have little control over the outcome.
We are all going to die, but probably not at this moment; the snake hasn’t bitten you, you haven’t fallen off the ledge and in all likelihood, the sky isn’t falling either. We all share many of the catastrophic fears, but setting catastrophe aside for the moment, our other fears act as a warning system alerting us to a different kind of danger.
These fears define the limits of our emotional boundaries. They tell us where emotional damage lurks. And where our catastrophe fears are “real,” and somewhat universal, the warning fears are personal and problematic. There is a message that says, “Go there and you’ll get creamed!”
That does not invalidate them, but consider that the “damage” in these situations is self created. if he’s angry and upset, uncle Joe may rip you to pieces, but any “damage” created by the exchange is something you determine. Sure, the experience will be unpleasant, but short of physical violence, he’s only some guy spouting on the other side of the room. His words are only vibrations in the air – and this is important – until you give them meaning.
Joe may have something worthwhile say, but you get to decide that, unless of course, you are predisposed to have few boundaries. But even that is still your decision. You get to decide what your boundaries will be. And any residue you carry from the encounter is going to be self-induced. I’ll say again, short of physical violence, you cannot be harmed unless you permit it – unless you at some level, agree with what he is saying. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.”
We determine, based on what we learned from our parents, our religion or our other life experiences, before we go into any situation, what our limits are going to be. Are you fragile or are you tough? (both are defenses) How easily can you be hurt or intimidated, and by whom? Can you be compassionate and hold your ground? Who do you give the power to hurt you? Who gets to determine what the truth is? Who decides whether or not you are OK as a person?
However your limits were formed, the beautiful thing about fear is that it targets your weaknesses like a missile. It is a clever, treacherous adversary. It has no decency, respects no law, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving accuracy. Now that can seem like a terrible thing, but it is also an incredible gift. Your fear takes you to the very place where you can make the most significant changes, if you choose. You get to decide whether or not to make Uncle Joe relevant. If you decide there is little to be gained from his abuse, you can ignore him! That is taking your power!
Jim Butcher wrote about fear, but he put a stinger on the end of his statement. He wrote, “Fear is a part of life. It’s a warning mechanism. That’s all. It tells you when there’s danger around. Its job is to help you survive. Not cripple you into being unable to do it.”
What are the limits you set on your life? What are your “safe” zones? Where do you hold back? We never want to be cruel, but what won’t you say to another? Who determined your look, the way you do your hair, what you do for fun, where you go on vacation, your religious or political beliefs? How much of what you do is shaped by who you really are and how much of it is social convention? What are your fantasies? What are you holding yourself back from today that you will regret tomorrow?
I grew up in the conventional 1950’s and ’60’s. I didn’t really know who “I” was separate from a role cast for me by society. I was fit into a social mold that had been set before I was born. Every day I thank the hippies and the “flower power” generation of the 60’s and 70’s for helping free me from the stranglehold of manufactured traditional values I had grown up with! Many years later I lived in the American South for a time, and I felt the same repressive social pressures there I had experienced when I was growing up.
I spoke about “taking your power.” This is important for several reasons. The first and most important of which is that you have come to earth to accept your place as a strong, independent being. You were not intended to be some wishy washy rag that flops in whatever direction the wind was blowing. Don’t ignore what I just said. God intends for you to be a warrior for the truth. And what is the hallmark of a warrior? Fearlessness.
Fearless because the seasoned warrior accepts fear for what it is – an expression of his or her self-created limitations. And he or she has learned that on the other side of fear is power. The author of Dune, Frank Herbert, wrote what is essentially the code of the warrior. He wrote, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
Overcoming our fears means exploring them to determine their legitimacy. C. Joy Bell wrote, “Fear in itself is not important, but fear stands there and points you in the direction of things that are important. Don’t be afraid of your fears, they’re not there to scare you; they’re there to let you know that something is worth it.” Or, as Joseph Campbell famously wrote, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
Richie Norton gave us the road map for dealing with fear. He said, “To escape fear, you have to go through it, not around.” Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” A personal favorite of mine is a quote by Pittacus Lore who wrote, “I know what I’m capable of; I am a soldier now, a warrior. I am someone to fear, not hunt.”
Life is an adventure designed to challenge your self-imposed limitations and boundaries. But if you keep your ship tied to the dock, you won’t learn much that is new. You won’t expand your horizons, change your outlook, learn new things. And as John Shedd wrote, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” T. S. Eliot wrote in The Wasteland: “Do I dare Disturb the universe?”
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